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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

Cherish Your Spiritual Roots - Pastor John Roekle

August 23, 2020 [Pentecost 12] Romans 9:1-5 J.D.Roekle

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying—my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit 2that I have great sorrow and continuous pain in my heart. 3For I almost wish that I myself could be cursed and separated from Christ in place of my brothers, my relatives according to the flesh, 4those who are Israelites. Theirs are the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, came the Christ, who is God over all, eternally blessed. Amen.

Cherish Your Spiritual Roots

Dear Friends in Christ,

It is an interesting endeavor to study your ancestry. I haven’t done a lot of work on it myself, but other family members have. Someone along the way has been able to trace my Roekle roots to about 1590. Some of you may be able to trace yours even further back. As I was reviewing some of my ancestry recently, I came across this note:

I am Margaret Roekle, born March 13, 1854 in Eltingen, Germay. I came to Adrian (Michigan) September 3, 1881 and was married February 26, 1882 in the Stephan’s church to Adam Roekle who also was from Eltingen. Had a happy marriage, only too short. My husband died after 25 years of married life. He left me with 6 children. Soon God will call me to him. I hope God will forgive me all my sins. This I have written February 23, 1944. I bless here all my children, grandchildren and all acquaintances and my hearty thanks for all. The Lord will watch over you all. Amen. God bless you again. Do not forget what I have all gone through in so many many years. God be merciful to me.

That was written by my great grandma. She died in 1947, 18 years before I was born. She writes words that are not unusual at all. In fact, very typical. Where she came from…her marriage…her children. One thing that strikes me about that letter is her statement that she hopes God will forgive all her sins. Where does the fact that God forgives sins come from? It probably was passed on to her through by her parents. And these spiritual roots actually are much deeper since they are anchored in the Old Testament church.

That is the same for you as a Christian. Even if you are only a first generation Christian, you have some very deep spiritual roots. Today, we want to take some time to cherish those roots.

Your spiritual roots and mine can be traced back to the Old Testament Israelites. They were chosen by God to be his standard bearer. God’s church came through them. He called them his children and treated them as his children. Even when they rebelled against him, God worked patiently to restore them.

In order to assure them that they were his people, the glory of the Lord went with them wherever they went. In the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. That glory would rest on the Tabernacle, the temporary church building of the children of Israel, and it would fill the Temple, the permanent worship structure of the Israelites.

And God made several covenants with Israel. Special promises to bless them and to save them. To Abraham he promised him many descendants and that the would possess the land of Canaan. To Moses he said that if they obey the law they he gave to them on Mt. Sinai, they would be his treasured possession, his kingdom of priests and a holy nation. To King David, he promised the Temple and that his throne would last forever. As if that wasn’t enough, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah to make a new covenant since the Israelites had broken the old one. His promise was that they would continue to be with his people. It was a covenant of forgiveness. And finally, there was a covenant through Ezekiel where the Lord promised them peace in which he would provide them with various blessings.

And if that all was not enough to make them feel special and set apart, God taught them how to worship. He instructed them on the entire system of sacrifices. He even designed the very buildings they were to worship in, both the Tabernacle and the Temple. He provided them with blueprints complete with measurements and layouts of what would be put where.

From the children of Israel come the names of men billions of people know: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But even greater than having any of those as a part of their heritage, they have one who sticks out. Paul says: “from them, according to the flesh, came the Christ, who is God over all, eternally blessed.”

The whole reason for the Old Testament Israelites to be set apart as a nation was to carry the human ancestry of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ roots can be traced back all the way to Adam through Abraham and the Israelites.

Wow! What roots! And what makes it so special is the fact that Jesus was not only human. Someone who is only human will surely disappoint in the end. He was and is God too! And as both God and man, look at what Jesus accomplished during his short 33 years on this earth. He won salvation for us! His life, his ministry, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension were all about keeping us permanently in his family.

Those are your spiritual roots. Don’t you just want to burst with pride?! Perhaps there is a famous person in your lineage. Maybe there is a well-known historical figure that is in your line of descent. A previous president, a war hero, or inventor. Nothing can compare to having your spiritual roots squarely in the Old Testament church – the Israelites – because this these spiritual roots are anchored in Christ Jesus.

So, what do you do with this? What do you do, knowing that this is your spiritual heritage? Well, what did the Jewish people of Paul’s day do with it? They ended up rejecting their roots. No, not all of it. They still clung to their culture. They clung to the way they had worshipped. They clung to the patriarchs. But they rejected Jesus Christ. In so doing, they were really rejecting their roots, because all of their past was rooted in the promise of the Savior who had now come.

Knowing that his people had rejected Jesus, how did that make Paul feel? “I have great sorrow and continuous pain in my heart.” It hurt Paul deeply. In fact, it hurt him so much that his fellow Jews rejected Jesus that he wished he could trade places: that he would be condemned in place of them.

Who do you know that is rejecting this spiritual heritage grounded in Christ Jesus? Doesn’t your heart ache for loved ones who have rejected Jesus? As long as they are alive, it is not too late to remind them of their spiritual roots. To remind them of Jesus’ love and forgiveness in order to welcome them back into the family of God.

And remember that your spiritual roots aren’t exclusive. They aren’t just for you and your family members, and for your church family. They are for everyone. Why wouldn’t you want everyone you know – or don’t know for that matter – to have the confidence of being anchored in Christ Jesus our Savior?!

When my great grandma wrote back in 1944 that she hoped God forgives all her sins, that was a reflection of her spiritual roots. She knew where alone she could turn for forgiveness: Jesus. That’s true for you too. All blessings – physical and spiritual – rest and reside in Jesus. What spiritual roots you have! Sometimes, there may be something in our ancestry that we’re ashamed of. Someone back there that was a bad character. There’s nothing to be ashamed of with your spiritual roots. Read about them often on the pages of the Old Testament again and again. Treasure them, because they are anchored in Jesus Christ! Amen.

Forever in God's Love - Pastor John Roekle

August 16 & 17, 2020 [Pentecost 11] Romans 8:35-39 J.D.Roekle

35What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36Just as it is written:

For your sake we are being put to death all day long.

We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither things present nor things to come, nor powerful forces, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Forever in God’s Love

Dear Friends in Christ,

If you are a country music fan, you may recognize these lyrics:

You may think that I'm talking foolish
You've heard that I'm wild and I'm free
You may wonder how I can promise you now
This love that I feel for you always will be
But you're not just time that I'm killin'
I'm no longer one of those guys
As sure as I live, this love that I give
Is gonna be yours until the day that I die

Oh, baby, I'm gonna love you forever
Forever and ever, amen
As long as old men sit and talk about the weather
As long as old women sit and talk about old men
If you wonder how long I'll be faithful
I'll be happy to tell you again
I'm gonna love you forever and ever
Forever and ever, amen

It’s a feel-good song, isn’t it?! But how long is forever? The song concedes that love will last at least “until the day that I die.” That’s the way it is with earthly relationships. We love the special people around us all our days or all their days on this earth. At least, that’s our intention. How often do relationships end before that time? Family members distance themselves from each other. Marriages are dissolved. Friendships are broken. All of a sudden, the concept of forever shrinks. I’m going to love you forever…until its not convenient for me anymore. I’ll be forever faithful to you…until I’m no longer in love with you. You will forever be my best friend…until someone else becomes my best friend.

Now think of it from God’s perspective. Imagine that it is God singing the refrain to you: I’m gonna love you forever; forever and ever, amen. When it comes from God, forever takes on a different meaning. If you listened to the sermon last week, you know that we talked about the fact that God chose you before you were born, and even before the world was created. He loved you way back then. Why else would he choose you? And unlike many relationships we have here on earth, his love for you never stops. Nothing can separate you from God’s love. You are forever in God’s love.

But does it always feel like it? Just ask the apostle Paul. Look at his list: “trouble…distress…persecution…famine…nakedness…danger…sword.” He expands on that list from personal experience in his second letter to the Corinthians (11:23-27): He said that he had “been in prisons more often, been whipped far more, and I’ve been close to death many times. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. One time I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day on the open sea. 26 I have often been on journeys, in danger from rivers, in danger from robbers, in danger from my own people, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the wilderness, in danger on the sea, in danger among false brothers. 27 I have worked hard and struggled. I’ve spent many sleepless nights. I’ve been hungry and thirsty. I’ve gone without food many times. I’ve been cold and lacked clothing.

Before Paul became a Christian, he no doubt had his problems. However, he would be the first to tell you that once he became a Christian, his problems multiplied. Enemies lined up against him. No wonder Paul quoted the Psalmist: “For your sake we are being put to death all day long. We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

Now, none of us can claim we’ve been through what Paul’s been through. We haven’t likely faced physical persecution. People wanting to hurt or kill us because of our faith. At least not yet. However, all Christians face trials of various kinds. Our faith is tested. Enemies lurk. They seek to bring us down. If there is really a God out there, would he really let you suffer? they question us.

So, does that mean because we face trials of various kinds, that we are in danger of losing God’s love? If that ever becomes a concern for us, we just need to remember Paul’s words here: 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

When we think that perhaps God’s love for us has grown cold, let’s turn our attention to where Christ won the greatest victory ever: the cross. And why? Because of God’s undying love for you and me in Christ! Keep in mind Paul’s words a few chapters back (5:8): “But God shows his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

It wasn’t as if God looked at you and saw such a fine specimen that he decided to love you. When he looked at you, he didn’t like what he saw. He saw a heart that wanted nothing to do with God. Even more so, he saw someone who was hostile to him and to his will.

Yet, in his love, he sent Jesus in our lives. He sent him to pay the ultimate sacrifice. And in so doing he would win the greatest victories ever. He would conquer sin so that it would no longer possess you. He would conquer death so that neither the grave nor hell could hold you. He conquered the devil thereby assuring you that he is forever more powerful.

With these victories in mind, God made you his children by faith. It was his love that reached out to you as the words were spoken: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And in love he reminds you of his love in his body given for you and his blood shed for you.

Whenever you face trials or hard times, remember the love of God in Christ Jesus. The love of God in Christ reminds us of how serious God is about us. It assures us that his love for you will not run dry.

Paul reminds us that absolutely nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There is nothing that you go through in life that can separate you from God’s love. Even though it may not seem as if God cares, in Christ, he does! Even when you are on the brink of death, God assures you of his love by reminding you that you will be with him always. There is nothing in your future that can take God’s love away from you. There is nowhere you can go where the love of God is not with you. In order to show you the absolute love of God, Paul says there is not “anything else in creation” that can end God’s love for you. Nothing can come between you and God’s love.

No one enjoys trials and tribulations. No one enjoys suffering. We like to have stability in our lives, and these trials often bring chaos. There is nothing more stable than God’s love in Christ. It is the one constant you can always count on, in good times and in bad times. Rejoice that you have it! And rely on it in every time of need. Amen.

Baptism Unites Us with Christ - Pastor John Roekle

July 12, 2020 [Pentecost 6] Romans 6:1b-11 J.D.Roekle

Shall we keep on sinning so that grace may increase? 2Absolutely not! We died to sin. How can we go on living in it any longer? 3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into his death, so that just as he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would also walk in a new life.

5For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection.

6We know that our old self was crucified with him, to make our sinful body powerless, so that we would not continue to serve sin. 7For the person who has died has been declared free from sin. 8And since we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he will never die again. Death no longer has control over him. 10For the death he died, he died to sin once and for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11In the same way also consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Baptism Unites Us with Christ

Dear Friends in Christ,

Is Christianity an immoral religion? Now you might be surprised to hear such a question. For one, you know that Christianity teaches the 10 commandments. They promote the opposite of immorality. They promote living moral and upright lives. Honor your father and mother and all others in authority; don’t hurt or harm anyone; don’t commit adultery; don’t steal but protect each other’s property; don’t bear false witness but defend the name of others; don’t covet. And from the beginning, God made it clear that he didn’t put up with immorality. God doesn’t put up with sin. Instead, he made it clear from the beginning that sin must be punished. And sin was punished through Jesus who gave his life for us. He suffered for our immoral behavior. And so, God forgives us our sins. Each and every one of them. We have full and free forgiveness whenever we sin.

And so, critics of Christianity will argue that Christianity is immoral, because it basically teaches people that they can do anything that they want, because Jesus is going to forgive it anyway. In other words, we have been given a license to sin. We can sin and do anything we want, and Jesus will forgive it. So then, they say, Christianity promotes immoral behavior. Do you buy that argument?

Maybe you should ask yourself if you’ve ever used forgiveness as a reason to do something wrong. “I’ll do this just this one time, because I know Jesus will forgive me anyway.” Have you done that? Be honest with yourself.

The fact that we may have done that is not the fault of Christ or of his teaching. At the very least, it is a misunderstanding of what Christ teaches. That kind of an attitude is contrary to what being a Christian is all about. Being a Christian means that you have been united with Christ. In order to get a better understanding of what that means, we are taken back to our Baptism. It is there that we have been united with Christ.

The apostle Paul asks the question: “don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” When you were baptized, you died to sin. That means that a separation took place. You were separated from your sin. And Paul takes the picture even further. “We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into death.”

Dead and buried. That describes a Christian and sin. Remember what Jesus did with your sin. He took it to the cross. He died with it. He was buried with it. In being baptized, you were united with Jesus in his death and burial. That means that your sin is dead and gone too. It is something that no longer can control you. Sin is something that no longer has reign over you.

Instead, something new was created at your baptism. In order to understand what that is, Paul reminds us: “We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into his death, so that just as he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would also walk in a new life.”

Remember that when Jesus died, it wasn’t his intent to stay buried in his tomb. Instead, it was his intent to rise from the dead. The sin he died with stayed buried behind him. He rose to new life. Life in the flesh. Life that was no longer subject to sin around him or our sin he died with.

When you were baptized, you were not only baptized with Jesus in his death and burial, but also with him in his resurrection. Something new came as a result. A new life sprang up. A life that was no longer ruled by sin. A life that was ruled by a love for God and his will. A life that seeks to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. A life that seeks to love your neighbor in whatever manner possible. The longer we are united with Christ in the baptism, the more that new life grows and flourishes.

And with this new life that is united with Christ, we have a change in attitude. Our attitude is no longer “what can I get away with?” Being united in Christ means that we aren’t looking for loopholes in God’s law. We don’t want to do things that would displease God. Being united with Christ means that the sinful nature need not control us any longer.

That being said, the sinful nature is still there. It isn’t as if you are suddenly perfect. No, your sinful nature still exists. You still have daily struggles in following God’s will. And if it goes unchecked, the sinful nature continues to grow and gets out of control.

That’s where Baptism comes in. Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, reminds us of how to keep our sinful nature in check as he speaks about the Meaning of Baptism for our Daily Life:

Fourth: What does baptizing with water mean?

Baptism means that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live beore God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?

Saint Paul says in Romans, chapter 6, “We were…buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Luther is very clear: while Baptism is a once in a lifetime act, the usefulness of Baptism lasts throughout our lifetime. Today we are stressing Baptism. You see that in the hymns and in this sermon. You should also see that each time we begin the service in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are reminded that we were united with Christ in baptism. You should also remember that as you confess your sins here and as you hear that your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

While we do this regularly in worship services, Luther reminds us that this should be a daily exercise of our faith. Go to the throne of God daily confessing your sins and come away once again with the assurance that they are dead and buried in Christ.

Of course, Satan is there tempting us to think that sin shouldn’t be such a struggle for us. When you are tempted to believe that, remember this: where there is no struggle with sin, there is a need to be concerned. The struggle will remain all the days of our life. The struggle means that the new life created at our baptism is alive and well. We will talk more about that struggle with sin next week.

Let’s get back to our original question. Is Christianity immoral? Does the fact that Christ forgives all our sins give us a license to sin? Baptism gives us the answer. In Baptism we are united with Christ. We are freed from the control that sin has over us as our sins are dead and buried with Christ. Being united with Christ, we now have an entirely different attitude about sin.

Think about it this way. When a couple unites in marriage, they promise to work for the good of the marriage. That is the intent from the outset. The intent is not to try to sabotage the relationship that is created and nurtured. Being united in Christ means that we work with Christ from the start. Our sins are buried with him and so we work on the new life he began in us at baptism. That should remind you of just how important your Baptism is. It provides you with power and with motivation to regularly work on your relationship with Christ. Amen.